Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Fun with Gospel Comparison

All three synoptic gospels have a version of the instruction to take nothing, but go out and heal. But there are some interesting variations in these passages (note: translations from the RSV). For example, is payment justified and should only worthy households be entered? And of course, there is the increased foaming at the mouth in historically successive gospels - as I pointed out in my last post.

(As a reminder: the historic sequence of the canonical gospels is Mark some time between 67 & 73 CE, Matthew and Luke between 85 & 90 CE, John between 90 & 100 CE. The Gospel of Thomas could be as early as 60 CE or as late as 90 CE. And the authentic letters of Paul predate all these gospels, being written over a period from 48-62 CE. For summaries on such stuff see:’s page on the gospels)

In bold are some variations of interest.

Mk 6.7-11: “And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, ‘Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.’”

MT 10.5-16: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor'rah than for that town. Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Lk 10.3-12: “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

This instruction is in Thomas, but it has a very different cast:

Thomas 14: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth - it is that which will defile you.”

Fascinating! The disciples are warned against all these standard spiritual practices - fasting, praying and giving alms – and then told to worry, instead, about what they say.

On another note, the saying that ends Thomas is in Mark and Matthew, but in the canonical gospels it is put in such a different context that it implies something different.

In Mark, the saying follows a diatribe against Pharisees that begins when they challenge Jesus. (Mk: 7.5) “And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?’… (7.14-15) And he called the people to him again, and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.’”

The treatment of this is very similar in Mathew. The passage opens as the Pharisees challenge Jesus (Mt 15.2) “’Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat...’ Eventually Jesus answers with the saying so that it becomes a judgment against them. (15:11) ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’”

Oh those Pharisees - shamefully worried about what they eat when they should be worried about what they say.

Yet in Thomas, the same saying is an instruction to the disciples to beware of defiling themselves with their words.

For your own gospel comparison, there are print books with similar passages side-by-side, or look at The Five Gospels Parallels site.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More On Shaking Dust and Radical Gospel Messages

My last post was a message I heard as I did lectio on the phrase "shake off the dust that is on your feet" from Mark 6.10-11: “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet…”

Following is a little analysis of the way various gospels interpreted the saying.

All three of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) have a version of this saying, but they interpret it as a call to judgment. Perhaps a message of radical non-reactivity was simply incomprehensible.

They were caught up defending their burgeoning cult to synagogue traditionalists, and surviving the Roman world after the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus represented incomparable “Good News,” and many who happen on a spiritually illuminating theology think that after everyone gets it, all suffering will end. So it is easy to condemn anyone who refuses to hear. What kind of benighted fool chooses to reject the end of suffering?

I have no idea if the historical Jesus actually said anything about shaking dust. If he did, I have no idea what he meant. But one sign that the judgment interpretation is a gospel writer’s add-on is that in historically successive gospels, the language gets more vitriolic. (The historic sequence of the canonical gospels is Mark 67-73 CE, Matthew and Luke between 85 & 90 CE. John was last at 90-100 CE.) To whit:

Mk: shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.

Mt: shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor'rah than for that town.

Lk: say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Radical non-attachment grows out of radical unconditional love–a love that equally embraces all, like the sun that rises "on the evil and on the good" (Mt 5.45)–a love that is absolutely and radically nonviolence. Such love eschews even the violence of setting out to "fix" others. Because that means seeing those others as “broken” and therefore inferior–with the fixer automatically assuming a superior position as less broken.

So, how does radical unconditional love interpret the gospel admonition to shake dust?

Speak where your words promote growth in compassion and understanding. If your words aren’t heard, merely leave–without anger or shame–trusting that this also is God and not your concern.

(If you'd like to do a little parallel gospel comparison of your own, try The Five Gospels Parallels site. A great site to read of scholarly debate on dates, authorship, etc. is at

Shake Off the Dust: A Gospel Message of Radical Detachment?

Mark 6.8-11: “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, "Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet…”

In lectio on this passage, I was caught by the phrase “when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.” As I let this phrase roll through my consciousness, this is what I heard.

“Take nothing…stay where you are received… if you are not received, don’t sweat it, but go on, taking nothing with you: no anger, no hurt, no blame, no regret, not even the dust on your feet. Come away clean, without attachment of any sort.”

It is a quiet act, shaking dust off. It is not rancorous in any way. Shake the dust from your feet: don’t piss and moan endlessly on about it, and certainly don’t get caught up in righteous indignation or vengeful wrath. But as you leave each place or person, shake off every grain of ill feeling.

In The Hidden Gospel, Neil Douglas-Klotz says that the words translated “good” and “evil” are more accurately translated “ripe” and “unripe” - for example in the gospel saying that “good” trees bear “good” fruit and “evil” trees bear “evil” fruit. How different to read, “The ripe tree bears ripe fruit. The unripe tree bears unripe fruit.”

It is not good for the gardener or the tree to try forcing fruit out of an unripe tree. The gardener needs to let go and move on, assuming the fruit of that tree will be ripe for others. Similarly, if mine is not the gospel for someone, he or she is none of my business. Who am I to judge another person's spiritual path?

So much for being rejected. What of the experience of being well received? It’s s-o-o-o easy to become addicted to thanks and praise. Yet, as my favorite desert Amma, Syncletica said, “Just as wax melts in the presence of fire, so also does the soul disintegrate in the face of praises.” I can’t be fully present if I’m busy manipulating events to get my fix of thanks and praise.

“Shake the dust off your feet.” The message is not about those who hear me or don’t hear me. It is about me: the student, the disciple. St. Antony suggested starting each day new, bringing no memory of any success or failure from the day before - to avoid feeding the demons of pride, anger or despair. If I want to live in the reign of God, I must practice letting go of everything from my encounters – the good, the bad, the sources of pride, the sources of shame, even the dust.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Writers Block. Arrrrggggh!

In my recent struggles with writer's block, I’ve occasionally thought of blogging about it - while lying in bed unable to get up. So when Shelby Meyerhoff of Looking For Faith pointed me to a post about it on Facilitating Paradox, I thought, “Now’s the time.” … Either that or leave an annoyingly long comment on the other blog.

When I was 30 years younger, I smugly (and often) declared, "Inspiration comes to those who work" - 'cause I found that if I went in the studio (sculpture) every day, I never ran out of ideas. In fact I always had more ideas crowding my brain than I could possibly carry out. But if I sat around waiting for the days I felt inspired before working, my creative energy dried up.

Would I have eventually hit artist's block if I hadn't switched first to science and then to writing? Don't know. (BTW, I eventually went back to sculpture - though it's up and down. Some years I let myself have 4-8 hours a day at it. Some years only a few hours a week - which is not enough to fire any kind of inspiration).

However, I've been in bad writer's block (on my monasticism book) since mid-summer. I still have lots of ideas yammering in my head, I just can't seem to drag the words out at the keyboard. When I try, it feels like a slog through waist deep mud... frozen mud. Neck deep.

So I guess my youthful insight still holds... I don't work and I don't feel that inspired energy pulling me forward... and it is so exhausting otherwise - like pushing a freight train from behind.

But I still have ideas... And get inspired about work other than what I am *supposed* to be doing.

Which is where blogging came in.

The thing is, when writing my book was first blocked last summer, my blog took off. I may not have been writing what I supposed to write, but it still felt like work. And it was really good to connect with others via the blogosphere.

(O.K., here is another, irrelevant, personal tidbit. I started computing in the days of card punching. Yes, I punched cards. Then fed JCL to a mainframe in the days before personal computers. In fact, I wrote my Master's thesis using JCL on a mainframe (80 characters to a line, etc.). I liked the mainframe/terminal set-up because of the community feel - whether at a terminal in a large, buzzing computer room, or in my own department - a university department was very proud if it had it's own terminal to the mainframe in some closet-sized room. I disliked personal computers - they were entirely disconnected then. So I have savored various reconnections - first email, then internet newsgroups, now blogs.)

Then a few weeks ago ALL writing was blocked. No blog. No book.

I still had ideas - lying in bed or walking the dog. Only the keyboard felt like it was wired to give off bad shocks. I couldn't touch it.

My blocks are almost all emotional and about bringing my words into being, and myself into public scrutiny. Last summer I signed with a well-known agent and my book (proposal) went on the market... and my book writing dried up (baring what turned out to be a few abortive restarts). Not at all coincidentally, the blog died when I said I put out those women's voices posts.

(Is this a kind of problem women have more than men, do you think? Or is this a gender-neutral dysfunction?)

Anyway... Emotional work ensued.

Blocks dissolved (at least partially, and for now).

My blog is back, and my book writing is (a little more tentatively) taking off again.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Women’s Voices II+: More Julian of Norwich

A 14th century, English mystic, Julian of Norwich faces a Universalist dilemma.

Why Doesn’t God Prevent Sin?

Julian wrote, “I wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. Therefore, I mourned and sorrowed, without reason and discretion.” Then Jesus spoke with “complete tenderness, showing no manner of blame,” saying, “It is behoovely that there should be sin, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,”

So Julian concludes, “it would be a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since [God] doesn’t blame me for sin.”

Also, “I saw not sin: for I believe it has no substance whatsoever, nor any part of being, nor could it be known but by the pain it causes. And thus pain is something, for a time: for it purges and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy.”

And so she repeats Jesus’ answer: “Sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Yet, “…because of the judgment of Holy church... I understood that sinners sometimes deserve the blame and wrath [of God], and I could not see these two in God…” Instead, “I saw our Lord God blaming us no more than if we were as clean and as holy as Angels in heaven.”

Greatly troubled, she “could have no rest for dread that… I be left in ignorance about how He beheld us in our sin.”

She asks God for help crying, “Good Lord, I see You who are very Truth; yet I know in truth that we sin grievously every day and deserve to be blamed. I can’t stop knowing Your truth, but don’t see You blame us in any manner. How can this be?

“…My longing endured, while I continually beheld Him, and yet I was impatient, and in great straits and perplexity, thinking: ...if we are sinners and blameworthy, Good Lord, how is it that I cannot see this true thing in Thee...?

She “cried inwardly, with all my might seeking unto God for help, saying thus: Ah! Lord Jesus, King of bliss, how shall I be eased? Who shall teach me and tell me that me need to know.”

It was then that “our Courteous Lord answered by revealing a wonderful example of a Lord that had a Servant:

The Parable of the Lord and the Servant

“I saw two persons… a Lord and a Servant… The stately Lord sat in rest and in peace; the Servant stood before his Lord reverently, ready to do his Lord’s will. The Lord looked sweetly and lovingly upon his Servant, and meekly sent the Servant to a certain place to do his will. The Servant not only went, but raced off, running in great haste for love of doing his Lord’s will. And so he fell into a ditch and took great hurt. There he groaned and moaned and wailed and struggled, but he could neither rise nor help himself in any way.

“And of all this, the worst hurt for the Servant was loosing the comfort of his Lord. For he could not turn his face to look upon his loving Lord, who stood near to him, and in whom there was complete comfort. But having become feeble and unwise for a time, the Servant turned his mind to his feeling and endured in woe.

“I marveled how this Servant might meekly suffer there all this woe, and I looked carefully to learn if I could perceive in him any fault, or if the Lord should assign to him any blame. And in fact there was none to be seen. For only the Servant’s goodwill and his great desire was cause of his falling, and he was as diligent and as good inwardly as when he stood before his Lord, ready to do his Lord’s will. And so thus, continually, his loving Lord with complete tenderness beheld him.

“I understood that the lord who sat in state in rest and peace is God. I understood that the servant who stood before him was Adam, that is to say one man was shown at that time and his fall, so as to make it understood how God regards All-Man and his falling. For in the sight of God all men are one man, and one man is all men.

“This man was injured, made helpless and feeble, and his understanding was confounded, because he was distracted from looking on his lord, but his will was preserved in God’s sight. I saw the Lord commend and approve him for his will, but he himself was blinded and hindered from knowing this will. And this is a great sorrow and a cruel suffering to him, for he neither sees clearly his loving Lord, who is so meek and mild to him, nor does he truly see what he himself is in the sight of his loving Lord.”

All Created Being is the Size of a Hazelnut:

“[God] also showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… I thought, ‘What can this be?’

“My question was answered: ‘It is everything that is made.’

“It seemed to me that it might suddenly fall into nothingness, it was so small…

“I was answered… ‘It lasts, and ever shall last, because God loves it...’

“It is necessary for us to know the littleness of creatures in order to judge them nothing, so that we may love and have the uncreated God. The reason we are not fully at ease in heart and soul is because we seek rest within [the littleness of creatures], and pay no attention to our God, who is Almighty, All-wise, All-good and the only real rest.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Women’s Voices II: Julian of Norwich

Julian was a 14th Century, English mystic with an uncompromisingly universalist vision. Hers was a joyful, compassionate God of infinite, mothering love - in direct opposition to the prevailing Catholic doctrine that plagues, wars and other suffering were an angry God's punishment for sin.

Julian saw that we cause our own suffering out of ignorance, sin has no ultimate reality, and there is no blame in God. Confused by the discrepancy between this and Church doctrine, she asked for help. Jesus replied with her most famous quote, “It is behoovely that there shall be sin, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well.”

Icon by Robert Lentz

Julian lived from 1342 to 1416. Her early life is unknown - her name may come from St. Julian’s, the church in Norwich, England where she was an anchoress. At 30, she became deathly ill and had a number of visions. She recovered and wrote a book about it: Revelations of Divine Love. Julian reflected on her visions throughout her life, extensively rewriting her text. She was the first woman known to have written a book in English.

An anchoress lived her entire life in a cell attached to a church. It was a simple life, but fairly comfortable - with servants and a garden - and not at all isolated. Julian must have had access to a good library. She gave spiritual advice from a window opening near a major street - from which she could also hear any news.

Julian lived in the midst of plagues, wars, famines and religious persecution. Witches were burnt at the stake. Peasants rioted over unfair labor and tax laws. The Catholic Church was split among warring popes - the most powerful was in France, with whom England was at war. Just around the corner from her anchorhold, followers of John Wycliff (who translated the Bible into English) were burnt. Julian must have heard the crowds and smelled the charring flesh.

Julian risked being accused of heresy, herself. She seemed aware of this danger as she opens her book by insisting that she is an unlettered woman, just writing what she saw, and that the mistakes of an ignorant woman be forgiven. It must have worked. Despite the radical universalism of her visions, she escaped persecution.

Some quotes from the Revelation of Divine Love:

"Our Soul is made to be God's dwelling place, and the dwelling place of our Soul is God… And I saw no difference between God and our Substance: but as is all God."

"God is… the Ground in whom our Soul stands, and… the means by which our Substance and Sense-nature are kept together... For our Soul sits in God in complete rest, and our Soul stands in God in complete strength, and our Soul is kindly rooted in God in endless love."

"Only Pain blames and punishes, our courteous Lord comforts and sorrows."

"I it am. The greatness and goodness of the Father: I it am. The wisdom and kindness of the Mother: I it am. I am that which is highest. I am that which is lowest. I am that which is All."

"Before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end."

Links to some of the many web sites on Julian of Norwich.

Introduction to Revelations at the Camelot Project, sponsored by the University of Rochester.
On Julian at The Spiritual Stars of the Golden Age
Julian Norwich at the Anthology of Middle English Literature
The God's Friends Website: Julian of Norwich, the Showing of Love (translations by Julia Bolton Holloway) and its contexts
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Revelations text online